College board OKs payroll-cutting reorganization
Southwestern deals with leadership shifts
By Chris Moran
March 1, 2008
CHULA VISTA – The leadership of Southwestern College continued its yearlong churn this week with the board's approval of a new organization chart that purports to reduce payroll by about $800,000.
College President Raj Chopra, the architect of the reorganization, is Southwestern's third president in just over a year. The college had four vice presidents last year. The vice president for business resigned in August, the vice president for academic affairs announced he will leave at the end of the school year, and the vice president for human resources was fired in late January.
Chopra, who had no community college experience or California education jobs on his résumé when he arrived in August, has picked up many of the duties of the departed executives.
The change has unsettled some employees and community members.
“I'm very upset by it,” said Janet Mazzarella, the faculty union president, before the reorganization was announced. “It may not bring (operations) to a grinding halt, but I question how the organization of the college is going to operate correctly, efficiently.”
County board of education member Nick Aguilar is concerned enough that he is giving up his seat to run for the Southwestern College board.
“When you don't have continuity in the leadership, you can't have reliable long-term direction for the staff and the community,” Aguilar said.
A recent union memo to nonteaching employees mentions a grand jury investigation of the college, and Chopra confirmed that he was questioned by the grand jury. Chopra said he was prohibited from discussing the nature of the questioning.
Chopra said the human resources and business functions “have not missed a beat” in the absence of the administrators, but he has been personally taxed by the workload and plans to fill the positions.
Board members said they're pleased with Chopra's performance.
Chopra compared his work to that of a corporate leader who comes in and makes changes in the interest of profitability. He said he identified $1 million in benefits paid out to employees in excess of the district's contractual obligation and not authorized by the board.
Chopra said he also put a stop to $245,000 spent on employees who were getting stipends for extra duties not approved by the board. Chopra also said he discovered $100,000 spent on equipment bought without a competitive bidding process.
A dozen positions have been left unfilled, in part to prepare the college for state budget cuts, Chopra said. He called the vacancies a “safety net” of expenses that have been reduced without getting rid of people.
“My goal is that the people do not have to worry about losing their jobs,” Chopra said.
The board has approved Chopra's reorganization of the college, put forth in a complex 11-page document of before-and-after charts with summaries of eliminated and altered positions. It keeps the structure of four vice presidents. The document reports $813,000 in savings, but it doesn't account for the costs associated with filling some vacant positions, including that of a dean.
Chris Moran: (619) 498-6637; email@example.com